New middle school French teacher Eric Hennion leads a discussion with his students.

New middle school French teacher encourages critical thinking, collaborative exploration

(Photo used by permission of Hennion)
New middle school French teacher Eric Hennion leads a discussion with his students.

Eric Hennion, who grew up in France, is the new middle school French teacher.

Q: Where did you move from?
A: I spent five  years in Chicago, (but) I moved from Lille, a city in northern France. Chicago was my first city (in the U.S.)


Q: Why did you decide to move?
A: (I wanted) to experience life in the U.S.


Q: When did you move from France?

A:  Five years ago.


Q: What were you most looking forward to experiencing about the U.S. ?
A: There is a different perspective on social relationships here. It’s easier to engage and communicate (with people) here than in France. It’s more rigid and coded in France. This is something I was looking forward to experiencing.

 Also, as a teacher, (I like having) the freedom to experiment and be creative. This is something that (does not) usually (occur) in France. (In America) schools provide you with that opportunity.


Q: How is the U.S. different from France?
A: Well, in terms of education, the curriculum here is very diverse. For instance, students are exposed to so many different things, so they can explore and search for something they really (enjoy).


Q: What do you miss about France?
A:. Sometimes I miss (the) food and fashion a little bit. I try (to go back) once (or twice) a year, depending on the year.


Q: Do you have any family living in France?
A: (Yes), my family lives over there. (I visit them) as much as I can.


Q:  Do you have any siblings?

A: I have a sister who is living in (the north of) France. She is married with beautiful children. She is a bit older than me.

Q: How long have you been teaching?

A: I started 20 years ago. I graduated from Université Charles de Gaulle (with a major in) philosophy and a minor in French, (and right after graduating). I started teaching philosophy to 12th grade. I did that for 15 years,  and then I realized that I also (liked)  teaching French.


Q: How does teaching philosophy compare to teaching French?
A:  There are some similarities. ( They are both) about letting the students question themselves and evaluating their reflecting skills, so it’s very similar in that way.

 While in philosophy you expect wide and open answers, to questions in French you need specific answers (and) specific grammar. The tests and evaluations are different (too).

Q: What other grades have you taught?

A: I’ve taught from sixth to 12th.


Q: What’s your favorite grade?

A: I like both middle and high school for different reasons.

In middle school I always feel the students are very engaged and (outspoken). They are also creative (with) different projects.  

In high school I expect critical thinking skills, so the discussions are always interesting.

Both (have) very good sides.


Q: Why did you decide to teach at Country Day?

A: At some point in my life, I wanted to experience what teaching inside a highly respected American school (like Country Day would be like). In Chicago I used to teach at Lycée Français de Chicago, a French international school, but I really wanted to experience the pedagogy within an American school.

(Also) I met my wife in Chicago, and she is from California. So we said as soon as we have a great opportunity, we will take the chance to live in California. I found the community so welcoming; it was a good match.


Q: What is your favorite thing about SCDS so far?

A: The students’ ability to explore many different fields. Between the curriculum (and) the electives, they have (the ability) to figure out what they are enthusiastic about.


Q: How does SCDS’s curriculum compare to Lycée Francais de Chicago?

A: Four years ago (when I was teaching there), I started in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program. In IB the students have more long-term projects, which do not really exist here.


Q: How do your SCDS students compare to your past students?
A:  In Chicago, like here, (they are both) highly selected (bodies) of students. Academic performance (and) open-mindedness are similarities I have found.

Q: How would you characterize your teaching style?

A: I like (projects), so I let students explore in collaborative ways. I also like visuals and thought-provoking materials. I am using authentic documents like films (and) movies to provoke the words around vocabulary and grammar points.

 I let them use technology and let them explore technological tools to (help) them speak French.


Q: Why did you choose to major in philosophy?
A: (My) first encounter with philosophical texts and (seeing how they) make you think just by yourself. The questions are just fascinating. I still don’t have any answers, but they are worth (asking).


Q: How has your major in philosophy impacted the way you think about teaching?

A: I really believe in teaching as a dialogue between the teacher and the students. It’s not only based on the content provided by the teacher; it’s like a circle (in which) the students also have to pick out parts of the dialogue. The idea of an intellectual approach of pedagogy is maybe something reiterated from my philosophy years.

No matter what subject, I (want) them to be critical thinkers, thinking about what they learn. That’s also something I could have reiterated from philosophy.


Q: Why did you decide to be a teacher?
A: The environment of a class. I don’t think I would be doing a great job in an office. I like to interact with students. I like educational environments.

Q: What is your favorite and least favorite thing about teaching French?
A: (My) favorite is to let the students explore French culture because there are so many (aspects), from fashion to food to the way of life.

(My least favorite is that) French is a very demanding (and) rigorous language. So it requires years of patience to master. I would love to simplify the French language, but unfortunately (that’s) not possible. It’s full of exceptions, (which are) frustrating for students.


Q: What is your favorite place that you have traveled?
A:  Corsica in France, a little island south of France. It’s just heaven on earth. My wife and I are (also) fond of London. We love the London spirit, fashion and style.

Q: Do you speak any other languages?
A: I speak a little bit of German;  it was my first language. I would love to practice some more and be able to read German poems or philosophy.

Q: What are some of your hobbies?

A: I make music with software (on) computers and synthesizers. (I also enjoy) writing.


Q: How would you  describe yourself in three words

A: Open-minded, reflective and patient.


By Kristine Schmitz

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